John Steinbeck’s Cannery Row: The Representational Art of Sculptor Lew Aytes

Image of John Steinbeck, sculpture by Lew Aytes

John Steinbeck

A multi-tasking Monterey, California sculptor whose busy career as a musician, businessman, and installation artist would have appealed to John Steinbeck has brought three-dimensional life to famous characters from Steinbeck’s fiction in a series of bronze portraits—representational art that aptly reflects the stylized realism of Cannery Row, Of Mice and Men, and The Grapes of Wrath. A Monterey, California resident who once lived near the Steinbeck family cottage in Pacific Grove, Lew Aytes read Cannery Row as a boy, and the faces in his Steinbeck series suggest a sense of fresh discovery and boyish delight. The museum-quality pieces, designed to be affordable and accessible to audiences attracted by John Steinbeck’s fiction, toured venues in Ireland, New Orleans, and other sites associated with Steinbeck’s storied life before being exhibited for the first time on Cannery Row recently.

Image of Ed Ricketts, sculpture by Lew Aytes

Ed Ricketts

The pieces shown here are part of an assembly of representational art united by a single theme—“Steinbeck: The Art of Fiction”—currently on view at the American Tin Cannery, a rehabilitated commercial building where Pacific Grove and Monterey, California merge and Cannery Row begins. Also featured are works by the painter Warren Chang and the photographer Robert Nease, area artists steeped, like Aytes, in John Steinbeck’s description of life in Salinas, Pacific Grove, and Monterey, California during the 1920s and 30s. Historic Cannery Row photos from the 1950s by the late Robert Lewis, also on display, document the gritty waterfront scene where John Steinbeck met colorful Cannery Row figures depicted in his fiction as Doc Ricketts, Dora Flood, Mack, and Lee Chong. Aytes has also sculpted characters from other books by Steinbeck: George and Lennie, the unfortunate bindlestiffs from Of Mice and Men, and two members of the equally luckless Joad family—Ma and Tom—immortalized in The Grapes of Wrath.

“Steinbeck: The Art of Fiction” runs through March 31, 2015, at 123 Ocean Avenue in Pacific Grove. The exhibition is free and open to the public 10:00 a.m.-5:00 p.m. daily except Mondays.

Image of Dora Flood from Cannery Row, sculpture by Lew Aytes

Dora Flood

Image of Lee Chong from Cannery Row, sculpture by Lew Aytes

Lee Chong

Image of Mack from Cannery Row, sculpture by Lew Aytes


Image of George from Of Mice and Men, sculpture by Lee Aytes


Image of Lennie from Of Mice and Men, sculpture by Lew Aytes


Image of Ma Joad from The Grapes of Wrath, sculpture by Lew Aytes

Ma Joad

Image of Tom Joad from The Grapes of Wrath, sculpture by Lew Aytes

Tom Joad

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  1. Steve Hauk says:

    “Steinbeck: The Art of Fiction” was a popular, lively exhibit curated by passionate artists and hopefully someday it will find a permanent home and be allowed to expand in the process.

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